The Justice & Diversity Center is a proud member of the Bay Area Resilience Collaborative (BARC) which was formed to give legal assistance in the aftermath of disasters. A group of nonprofits formed BARC in 2015 and worked out a plan to provide legal services together in the Bay Area. The group expected that after […]
Dec 12, 2017
-- Bay Area, California Statewide
The Justice & Diversity Center is a proud member of the Bay Area Resilience Collaborative (BARC) which was formed to give legal assistance in the aftermath of disasters. A group of nonprofits formed BARC in 2015 and worked out a plan to provide legal services together in the Bay Area. The group expected that after a natural disaster, legal aid providers would face a great need for urgent help. The goal was to pave the way to provide coordinated services, as well as quickly direct volunteers who wanted to help.
The October wildfires in Northern California called BARC to action for the first time. BARC acted swiftly within the first week and held daily calls to coordinate assistance for people affected by the fires. Among other things, we launched a hotline to help people with issues such as FEMA claims, public benefits, insurance claims, landlord-tenant questions for rental homes, property damage or loss, and employment.
JDC contributed to the quick efforts to train volunteer attorneys on these topics before they staffed the hotline. Cary Gold, our Landlord-Tenant Supervising Attorney, recorded a training session on key issues for tenants whose homes were damaged or destroyed.
JDC also took on supervision of the hotline which was hosted at the San Francisco-Marin Lawyer Referral & Information Service. During the first two weeks, volunteer attorneys staffed the hotline from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. Senior JDC attorneys were always on hand to explain protocol and step in on difficult calls. Then as volunteers staffed the hotline from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., they often consulted with JDC attorneys on how best to address callers’ concerns. Working closely with volunteers, we saw first-hand how willingly they stepped up and gave their time to training then taking calls. Some had personal ties to Sonoma, Napa or the North Bay Area. Some had done pro bono work before while some had not. All were patient and understanding with the understandably upset and anxious people seeking help.
It was also very heartening to experience how quickly BARC member organizations and their lead contacts came together to serve our neighbors. JDC is glad to be a part of this collaborative and contribute what help we could for people impacted by the fires.
In these troubling times of ever-increasing homelessness in the Bay Area, and fearful uncertainty about the federal safety net, there is a group of dedicated attorneys serving the neediest of Alameda County to obtain the benefits that they are entitled to but often lack.
Aug 16, 2017
-- Bay Area
Homeless Action Center’s Dedicated Attorneys Are Passionate About Public Benefits Advocacy
In these troubling times of ever-increasing homelessness in the Bay Area, and fearful uncertainty about the federal safety net, there is a group of dedicated attorneys serving the neediest of Alameda County to obtain the benefits that they are entitled to. These attorneys work for the Homeless Action Center (HAC), an under-the radar but very significant community fixture for the last 26 years. Much of their work is focused on obtaining federal SSI benefits for their clients, an often long and cumbersome legal process.
The work that these attorneys do is often challenging. Many of them are young attorneys who are truly passionate about the public benefits advocacy they provide to the neediest members of the community. Some of them are making financial sacrifices to work at HAC. They do it because they recognize that public benefits advocacy is a critical tool to reduce and end homelessness. A number of HAC attorneys have left jobs at law firms or other agencies for the opportunity to serve those most in need.
Meghan Corman Pluimer is a managing attorney at HAC. She assigns client cases as well as maintaining her own case load. Megan came to HAC from a plaintiffs law firm. “I knew I wanted to leave because I had gone to law school specifically to practice public interest law, but that field is very competitive in the Bay Area, says Meghan. “The attorney jobs at HAC are sought after.” Meghan had worked on a child advocacy case in law school and was concerned about burnout at HAC because of that experience. But she quickly learned that her colleagues are all extremely supportive and encouraging of each other.
In addition, HAC has a number of self care policies in place for its employees. “It’s the polar opposite of working in a law firm,” says Meghan. HAC attorneys are not allowed to work overtime to prevent the stresses of their job from leading to burnout. HAC also has very generous maternity, family and sabbatical leave policies. “All of the HAC attorneys are very supportive of each other but each attorney is autonomous,” Meghan explains. “It’s a very unique workplace.”
Attorney Alan Dunnigan left HAC after three and a half years to work at the Social Security Administration hearing office as an attorney advisor in Stockton, where he advised administrative judges on disability cases and drafted their decisions. Though he believes he made a positive contribution, he felt pressure to obtain quantitative rather than qualitative results. He learned first-hand that the agency is coping with an extraordinary need for resources and support, so as a result, demands to resolve a large volume of cases within a pre-set timeframe were often unrealistic. “There are so many cases of people who should be receiving benefits,” he says. “Too often there is not enough attention paid to the clients’ personal circumstances that lead them to seek SSI in the first place.”
Alan returned to HAC in January 2017 with deep knowledge of the SSI hearing process gained from his experience working at SSA. “It was a valuable experience, but I missed working with individual clients. Working at HAC allows me to help my clients obtain the benefits that they need.”
About Homeless Action Center
The Homeless Action Center (HAC) is a legal services program that employs nearly 60 fulltime attorneys and advocates at its offices in Berkeley and Oakland. It currently provides individual representation to approximately 2,300 clients annually in Alameda County. In January, HAC opened a second office in Oakland and is planning to hire additional attorneys.
HAC is the only legal services program in the Bay Area that specializes in public benefits advocacy for those who are homeless. It provides no-cost, barrier-free, culturally competent legal representation. No homeless person is refused service because of the complexities of his or her legal case and the difficulties they present as clients. Many clients have drug or alcoholism problems. Many suffer from severe psychosis, paranoia, and personality disorders. The majority meet the legal definition for chronic homelessness.
For new clients, HAC moves quickly to apply for General Assistance, CalFresh (food stamps) and Medi-Cal. If a client cannot work due to severe mental illness or physical disability, a HAC attorney applies for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While some SSI claims are resolved within two or three months, it is not uncommon for cases to continue for a year or even longer. The modest but reliable monthly payments provided by SSI will pay the client’s rent in supportive housing and reduce the costs to local taxpayers for law enforcement and emergency services.
More LAAC Member Stories
Oct 7, 2016
Jul 19, 2016
Elder Law & Advocacy
Jun 15, 2016
Justice in Aging
May 12, 2016
Senior Citizens Legal Services (SCLS)
Apr 18, 2016
Jan 18, 2016
National Center for Youth Law (NCYL)
Dec 21, 2015
Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC)
Nov 30, 2015
Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC)
Oct 30, 2015
Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC)
Sep 3, 2015
California Women’s Law Center (CWLC)
Jul 1, 2015
California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA)
Feb 1, 2015
San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program (SDVLP)
Jan 1, 2015
Legal Aid at Work
Aug 1, 2014
Public Interest Law Project (PILP)
Jun 1, 2014
Legal Aid Society of San Diego (LASSD)
May 1, 2014
California Commission on Access to Justice (CCATJ)
Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal)
Apr 1, 2014
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC)
Feb 1, 2014
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)